Science on the Great Barrier Reef

Recently donated to the State Library of Queensland is a brief unpublished report on a scientific expedition to the Low Isles in 1954.

Low Island. Accession 30832 Report on Scientific Expedition to Low Isles in 1954. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

The document contains the recollections of John Bristow, then a young undergraduate industrial chemist. A highlight of the report, and also available digitally, are a number of wonderful photographs of the expedition. These images capture the natural beauty of the Low Isles as well as the spirit of adventure among the team, not to mention the rough and ready nature of the expedition.

The old Shack on Low Island. Accession 30832 Report on Scientific Expedition to Low Isles in 1954. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

The Low Isles are made up of two islands – Woody Island and Low Island – and sit about 25km north-east of Port Douglas on the Great Barrier Reef. Low Island is a quintessential tropical island, little more than a thicket of trees fringed by white sandy beaches and surrounded by a shallow lagoon. There is currently a small weather station and an active lighthouse on the island. The lighthouse stood in 1954, however the visiting team only had use of an old shack left over from a 1929 expedition in which to conduct their work.

The expedition team (John Bristow – middle row, far right). Accession 30832 Report on Scientific Expedition to Low Isles in 1954. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

The 1954 visit was organised by the Geology Department at the University of Queensland and was lead by Dr Fred Whitehouse. Mr Bristow spent his time on the island measuring water quality, collecting water from various parts of the island and carrying out basic testing. He found very little evidence of pollution and observed that the growth of coral and the presence of marine life indicated that there was very little human contamination.

John Bristow testing water on Low Island. Accession 30832 Report on Scientific Expedition to Low Isles in 1954. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

John Bristow testing water on Low Island. Accession 30832 Report on Scientific Expedition to Low Isles in 1954. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

30832 Report on Scientific Expedition to Low Isles in 1954 has been digitised and will be available online soon.

R. Hillier – Librarian, State Library of Queensland